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Metamorphosis approach to fighting domestic and cross-border disinformation presented at POINT 8.0 conference in Sarajevo

Sara Malosmani (Levizja MJAFT!, Albania), Ivana Markulic (Center for Research, Transparency and Accountability, Serbia), Blerina Ramaj (Open Data Kosovo), Mila Josifovska (Metamorphosis, North Macedonia), Milica Kovacevic (Center for Democratic Transition, Montenegro) and Danira Karovic (Citizens Association Why Not?, Bosnia and Herzegovina) at the opening of Point 8.0. conference.

 

From 16 to 18 May 2019 Metamorphosis shared key insights from their recent work at the 8th edition of the international conference Political Accountability and New Technologies – POINT in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

POINT is jointly organized by the ACTION SEE network, which is active in six Western Balkans countries. At the event opening (video), the manager of the regional project ACTION SEE Mila Josifovska presented the Openness Index as a specific and impactful tool that measures openness of public institutions and their adherence to the principles of good governance.

Fighting disinformation at regional level

Metamorphosis Director for Partnership and Resource Development Filip Stojanovski presented the experiences and insights of fighting disinformation during the session “Stories from the SEE region” (video) on the first conference day.

Filip Stojanovski explaining the Metamorphosis approach to debunking disinformation during the session “Stories from the SEE region” at POINT 8.0.

 

Stojanovski explained how Metamorphosis works on debunking disinformation based on combining expertise in the sphere of digital rights with the promotion of professional journalism and support for media pluralism. These initiatives are an integral part of its programs promoting accountability of public officials, politicians and other stakeholders, including the media through watchdog services.

Metamorphosis approach combines the insights from the work of the Truthmeter, established in 2011 with the help of NED, the Media Fact-Checking Service, est. 2012 with USAID help, and of the Critical Thinking for Mediawise Citizens – ChriThink.mk, est. in 2018 as EU project to form synergies with Metamorphosis-founded media outlets Portalb.mk and Meta.mk, complementing each other’s work and providing engagement of various target groups.

This combined work counters the flood of disinformation stemming from domestic and foreign malign influences and includes an ongoing NED-supported project addressing cross-border disinformation related to the political developments within North Macedonia and their reflection in the neighboring Balkan countries. These efforts continue to serve as the nexus of network of cooperation consisting of dozens other media outlets, building bridges across ethnic and linguistic divides and driving innovation in the media sphere. They streamline watchdog role of civil society organizations and media based on the best practices and quality standards of the International Fact-Checking Network.

Stojanovski noted that “facts are essential, but lacking in cross-border news coverage, due to editorial domestic political and editorial biases that affect reporting on regional issues.” He explained that often basic fact-checking is not enough and that it’s necessary to explain the context, as audiences in different Balkan countries are not really in touch with the developments across their borders. Increased cooperation and networking between watchdog journalists, fact-checkers and activists enabling use on local culture knowledge needed to debunk both fresh disinformation, as well as recycled disinformation from the past in particular about the role of NATO and EU.

By making its production is available in multiple languages: Macedonian, Albanian, and English, as well as partially in Serbian, Bulgarian, and Greek, Metamorphosis provides more opportunities for cooperation and sourcing by the fact-checking services and professional journalists from the neighboring countries.

Martin Schenk explaining the role of media in standing up to cottage industry of disinformation websites.

 

The importance of this approach was confirmed by the subsequent presentation of the Belgian digital activist and entrepreneur Martin Schenk who explained how he uncovered a “transnational junk news network” based in Kumanovo by detecting their suspicious activity on social networks and then tracking the perpetrators through publicly available information. As a result, the websites that had been spamming US and EU readers with hate-inducing disinformation about Muslims and migrants had been shut down.

“What worked really well, in this case, was public exposure by the media,” said Mr. Schenk in conclusion to his presentation, while showing a screenshot to an English-language news item by Meta.mk.

Advocacy workshop

On 18 May the ACTION SEE project team conducted the workshop ‘ACTION SEE: Government transparency – How to make an impactful regional project?’ Different stakeholders and representatives of the civic sector from all over the world discussed how to achieve significant and long-term project impact and bring the whole region closer together, based on the regional project partners’ experiences related to building capacities in doing advocacy towards public institutions for the purpose of social change.

Haris Kusmic (Westminster Foundation, UK), Blerina Ramaj (Open Data Kosovo) and Danira Karovic (Citizens Association Why Not?, Bosnia and Herzegovina) leading the workshop ‘ACTION SEE: Government transparency – How to make an impactful regional project?’

 

A joint conclusion was that the principle of using research data through the Openness Index and the implementation of the relevant laws on free access to public information can be replicated outside of the Western Balkans region, in particular in Mediterranean countries by adapting them to local circumstances.

The “Accountability, Technology and Institutional Openness Network in South East Europe – ACTION SEE” a project financed by the European Union, is implemented by Metamorphosis Foundation from North Macedonia, Westminster Foundation for Democracy from the UK, CRTA – Center for Research, Transparency and Accountability from Serbia, Citizens Association Why not? from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Center for Democratic Transition from Montenegro, Open Data Kosovo (ODK) and Levizja Mjaft! from Albania. Partners of the POINT 8.0 conference included National Endowment for Democracy – NED, Balkan Trust for Democracy, TechSoup Europe, the American Embassy in Sarajevo, Digital Communication Network, Outriders, GONG, TransparenCEE Network, and Friedrich Nauman Stiftung.